Saturday, January 28, 2012

A New Form of expression

Lynn Davy reviews ‘Expressive Handmade Books’ by Alisa Golden (Sterling Publishing Co., 2005, 160pp, full colour, paperback, ISBN 1-4027-2051-3)

I impulse-bought a book a few months ago. Nothing so very unusual in that: my bead shopping is generally of the unplanned ‘ooo, pretty’ variety and I rarely come home with just the items from my list. But this was a bit odd because it wasn’t a beading book at all, not even slightly: it was a book about bookbinding, a craft I’d never tried and knew absolutely nothing about.
It wasn’t even a beginners’ book, not really. But something about it spoke to me, made me pick it off the shelf and flick through it, and looking at the photos (which are many, and excellent) I thought ‘this is something I could do, too’.

The books it shows are accomplished (the author is an established artist) but not offputtingly uber-perfect. There are irregular shapes, deliberately raw edges. If this were a cookery book it would be the sort where there are a few crumbs or slightly burnt edges in the pictures, but you know it will look like that when you cook it too – and the taste will still be delicious.

The first three books I made after buying this book. One is about my terror of finance and numbers, one is emergency info for my Other Half should I ever fall under a bus, and the third is just a notebook and goes with me everywhere

What really appealed to me was the focus on content and how to make it meaningful. It’s all very well making blank books, but what about the stories you tell in them? The author had used books to help her grieve for her young son, and having just embarked on clearing my late aunt’s house I was knee-deep in paper ephemera that it seemed wrong to just throw away. Perhaps there was an answer here.

A notebook I made for a friend’s birthday, incorporating maps of a place that is special to her, with my own graphics and photos printed onto some of the paper used to make the pages (other pages are made from wrapping paper, old books, even a paper bag!)

I knew I was going to buy the book as soon as I’d read through the very clear and comprehensive list of materials at the beginning. I had thought bookbinding would require a lot of specialist tools but no, it was all things that most crafters would have knocking about the studio anyway: paper, card, needle and thread, cutting knife and mat, ruler… all I needed was some of that linen picture-framing tape and a bottle of PVA glue, and I could get started.

A little ‘Book of Lost Things’…with bits of surplus family photos in which you can see various things of my gran’s and aunt’s that I had known and loved all my life but didn’t have room to keep. At least I have the memories. And those take up a lot less room

The book starts with a discussion of basic techniques and materials and then moves on to simple accordion structures, flag books, sewn bindings, and some intriguing ‘multiple-path’ books such as double bindings and the infinite ‘flexagon’ which incorporates origami techniques to make a book that never ends. There is a useful chapter on different types of cover, and then my favourite chapter of all, ‘Sorting through the Big Box’, which deals with how to pick your materials from the morass of stuff you’ve got hoarded up.

If I have a quarrel, it is that it’s not always easy to find the particular structure you’re looking for, especially when you can’t remember what it’s called; but that’s a minor quibble. I love the way the author has integrated the search for meaning and expression into each and every chapter, and the way that although it’s not specifically aimed at beginners, the projects are still very accessible and clearly explained, so if you want to run before you can walk, the author will hold your hand at every step!

A bright and colourful case-bound notebook with coloured scrap paper pages and a cover made from an old cardboard box covered with a poster about flowers. It really appeals to my inner cheapskate to be able to make a book from just about any old rubbish

I now have handmade books and notebooks all over the place and a whole heap of ideas for making more. A new obsession has been born…

A ‘double binding’ book in progress. This one still is in progress. But as you can see, there’s a lot of content to be incorporated. And yes, the hammer is an important bookbinding tool, it’s used to knock an awl through to punch holes for stitching


  1. I might just have to go and buy that book Lynn

  2. Thank you for such a fun review :D

  3. Great review Lynn - It's ages since I made a book - you've just set an idea in motion - thank you!

  4. Thanks Lynn, I am going to buy this book with my birthday money. It sounds like just what I need right now.